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Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Blog Tour- Mark Hill- The Two O’Clock Boy- Exclusive Extract

51pljceuoulDiscover the gripping, twist-filled start to a fantastic new London-set crime thriller series starring morally corrupt DI Ray Drake from debut author Mark Hill. The Raven guarantees that this synopsis and exclusive extract will get your crime tingles tingling. Trust me…

Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home was burned to the ground. 
Now a killer calling himself the Two O’Clock Boy is hunting all those who grew up there.  
DI Ray Drake will do whatever it takes to stop the murders. 
But he will go even further to bury the secrets hidden since the night of the fire… 

 

EXTRACT:
The English Channel, 1986
The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them.

Perched on the edge of the bunk, he listened to them now. To the squeak of their soles on the deck above as they threw recriminations back and forth in voices as vicious as the screeching seagulls wheeling in the sky. He heard the crack of the sail in the wind, the smack of the water against the hull inches from his head, a soothing, hypnotic rhythm.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

Before everything went wrong, before the boy went away as one person and came back as someone different, they had been full of gentle caresses and soft words for each other. But they argued all the time now, his parents – too stridently, loud enough for him to hear – and the quarrel was always about the same thing: what could be done about their unhappy son?

He understood that they wanted him to know how remorseful they were about what had happened. But their misery only made him feel worse. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to speak to them, to utter a single word, and the longer he stayed silent the more his parents fought. The boy plugged his fingers into his ears, closed his eyes, and listened to the dull roar within him.

His love for them was untethering, drifting away on a fierce tide.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

A muffled voice. ‘Darling.’

The boy’s hands were pulled gently from his face. His mother crouched before him. Her eyes were rimmed red, and her hair was plastered to her face by sea spray, but she was still startlingly beautiful.

‘Why don’t you come up top?’

Her cold fingers tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his ear. For a brief moment he felt a familiar tenderness, wanted to clasp her to him and ignore the bitter thoughts that churned in his head. But he didn’t, he couldn’t. It had been weeks since he’d been able to speak.

A shadow fell across the hatch. His father’s voice boomed, ‘Is he coming up?’

‘Please, let me handle this,’ his mother barked over her shoulder, and after a moment of hesitation, the shadow disappeared.

‘We’re doing the best we can.’ She waited for her son to speak. ‘But you must tell us how you feel, so that we can help you.’

The boy managed a small nod, and hope flickered in his mother’s gaze.

‘Your father and I . . . we love you more than anything. If we argue it’s because we can never forgive ourselves for what happened to you. You know that, don’t you?’

Her eyes filled with tears, and he would do anything to stop her from crying. In a cracked voice, barely more than a whisper, he heard himself say, ‘I love you.’

His mother’s hand flew to her mouth. She stood, hunched in the cabin. ‘We’re about to eat sandwiches.’

Moving to the steps, she spoke brightly, but her voice trembled.

‘Why don’t you come up when you’re ready?’

He nodded. With a last, eager smile, his mother climbed to the hatch and her body was consumed by sunlight.

The boy’s heel thudded against the clasp of the toolbox beneath his berth. He pulled out the metal box and tipped open the lid to reveal his father’s tools. Rasps, pliers, a spirit level. Tacks and nails, a chisel slick with grease. Lifting the top tray, the heavier tools were revealed: a saw, a screwdriver, a peen hammer. The varnish on the handle of the hammer was worn away. The wood was rough, its mottled head pounded to a dull grey. He lifted it, felt its weight in his palm.

Clenching the hammer in his fist, he stooped beneath the bulkhead – in the last couple of years he’d grown so much taller – to listen to the clink of plastic plates, his parents’ animated voices on the deck.

‘Sandwiches are ready!’ called his mother.

Every night he had the same dream, like a terrible premonition: his parents passed him on the street without a glance, as if they were total strangers. Sooner or later, he knew, this nightmare would become a reality. The resentment they felt that their child had gone for ever, replaced by somebody else, someone ugly inside, would chip away at their love for him. Until there was nothing left.

And he was afraid that his own fierce love for them was slowly rotting, corroded by blame and bitterness. One day, when it was gone completely, other emotions would fill the desolate space inside him. Fury, rage. A cold, implacable hatred. Already he felt anger swelling like a storm where his love had been. He couldn’t bear to hate them, yearned to keep his love for his parents – and his memories of a happy time before he went to that place – uncorrupted, and to carry it with him into an uncertain future.

And so he had to act.

Gripping the hammer, the boy moved towards the hatch. His view filled with the blinding grey of the sky and the blur of the wheeling gulls, which screamed a warning to him that this world would always snatch from him the things he cherished, that life would always be this way. He stepped onto the windblown deck in the middle of a sea that went on for ever.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . .

 

 

Blog Tour- Thomas Mullen- Darktown

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Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.

On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement. When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

For many years I’ve been recommending Thomas Mullen’s The Many Deaths of The Firefly Brothers as a great American novel set during the Depression era, with its compelling period detail and a couple of superb protagonists in the guise of notorious bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson. On the strength of this, I was keen as mustard to read Mullen’s Darktown, set in the racially charged era of 1940’s Atlanta…

I will quite honestly say that I was held in Darktown’s thrall from start to finish, and felt genuinely engaged with the essence of the period, Mullen’s bold and engaging characterisation, and the compelling plotline which gravitated between claustrophobic tension and heartfelt emotion throughout. Being so firmly rooted within the conflict and racial tension of this period, the language and terms used completely reflect the era, and with our modern day sensibilities there is a slight uneasiness at the language used. However, being so much of its time, and as a testament to the weight of dignity he throws behind his maligned black characters, and the white protagonists, some sympathetic, some hostile, the rhythm, vernacular and cadence of the language used plays an essential role in the book. The depth of Mullen’s historical research shines through from the references to the inherently unjust limitations placed upon black citizens not only in their segregation from whites, but also the lack of legal redress available to them. This is mirrored in the very strict restrictions placed upon his black police officers, Boggs and Smith, as to how they conduct their police business, and the added layer of scrutiny and danger that they have to operate within. Likewise, the impunity that white police officers such as Dunlow operate under is sharply at odds with the black officer’s experience, and gives the crooked Dunlow a very long leash from which to pursue his corrupt ways.  Mullen traverses a significant amount of individual black and white experience across different realms of society throughout the book, from a lowly farmer to the higher echelons of political power, and with the distinctive backdrop of the racially and socially divided Atlanta as his backdrop, the depth and realism of his chosen period is perfectly integrated throughout.

The characterisation throughout the book is never less than perfect, with all of the main protagonists, as well as lesser characters having sharply drawn edges, and more importantly, being absolutely believable in their depiction, Consequently, such is the level of emotional engagement with them as a reader, you are completely drawn into their individual stories of bravery, certitude, honour or corruption throughout. Mullen depicts beautifully their moments of doubt, the battle to retain their moral centre when pushed to the limit by injustice and racism, or the depths of depravity that wearing a police badge or holding a position of power can reveal in those that society has deigned to be above all others. The moral integrity of both black officer, Boggs, and white officer Rakestraw, operating from both sides of the racial divide is explored throughout. It was extremely gratifying to see that although this is a book firmly rooted in the differences between black and white experience both figuratively and racially that Mullen avoids plummeting his characters into overly moralistic tropes. Instead he leaves area of grey where we witness as readers bad people doing bad things, and good people being driven to bad actions navigating their way through the tinderbox flashpoints that racial division stirs up, and can then draw our own conclusions on the veracity of their actions.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed, and at times with its exploration of racial divide in America, made this reader ponder how far American society has really progressed when looking at these issues with a contemporary eye. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to  Little Brown for the ARC)

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Blog Tour- Sarah Ward- A Deadly Thaw

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Autumn 2004
In Bampton, Derbyshire, Lena Fisher is arrested for suffocating her husband, Andrew.

Spring 2016
A year after Lena’s release from prison, Andrew is found dead in a disused mortuary.

Who was the man Lena killed twelve years ago, and who committed the second murder? When Lena disappears, her sister, Kat, sets out to follow a trail of clues delivered by a mysterious teenage boy. Kat must uncover the truth – before there’s another death . . .

You know that old adage about the difficult second book? Well, come closer and I’ll let you into a secret. Following Sarah Ward’s compelling debut  In Bitter Chill I’m going to boldly state that this one is even better. There, I’ve said it. Gauntlet thrown down for those foolish enough to challenge me. From the very outset I was completely hooked by this dark, suspenseful tale of Derbyshire folk, so read on and find out why…

What Ward achieves so well in this book is a perfect symmetry between the strength of her plotting and her razor sharp characterisation. The basic twist in the story upon which the whole book is played out is devilishly good, and as a long time crime reader provided a very unique and intriguing premise for a story. Woman reports husband dead. Woman convicted of his murder. Fourteen years later husband turns up dead. Again. Who was the original dead man? Brilliant. As Ward takes us on a darkly disturbing journey between the two timelines of the story, some nasty secrets centring on a string of local sex attacks come to light, flicking on the reader’s empathy switch, and completely immersing us on the dark history that comes to be revealed. Ward’s control of pace and reveal is perfectly realised throughout. With the branching out of other stories focussing on the particular personal relationships of her cast of protagonists, and a frighteningly familiar tale of police incompetence and the lack of sympathy to female victims of crime,  this book adroitly raises these serious issues throughout, but never to the detriment of this being a tautly played out thriller.

Once again, this is an extremely character driven book, and I liked the reprise of the police characters from the first book- DCI Francis Sadler, DS Damien Palmer and the wonderfully feisty DC Connie Childs- and the professional and personal interactions between them. Sadler is still firmly and solidly at the helm, and I liked the way that both Palmer and Childs sometimes resemble recalcitrant teenagers as their personal relationship takes a different turn in this book, and they continue to vie for the professional affection of their boss. There is also a strong cast around them from their under pressure senior commanding officer, Superintendent Dai Llewellyn, gruff pathologist Bill Shields and his assistant Scott, which really shores up the forensic and procedural accuracy of the book as past mistakes rear their ugly head. Equally, Ward carefully explores the sibling relationship between Lena and Kat Gray, and the tensions that arise from the aura of suspected guilt within their family dynamic, and the dangerous ramifications this holds for them both.  Ward again sensitively depicts the fear and emotional vulnerability of Lena as a person in the light of her traumatic experience, balancing this with the turbulent effect that her actions have caused in her sister’s life too, which is a real lynchpin in our engagement as a reader with them.

Great plotting, superb characterisation, the exploration of important issues, and perfectly placed moments of snappy humour make this book a perfect pick up and read. Highly recommended.

Sarah Ward is an online book reviewer whose blog, Crimepieces reviews the best of current crime fiction published around the world. She has also reviewed for Eurocrime and Crimesquad and is a judge for the  Petrona Award for Scandinavian translated crime novels. Follow her on Twitter @sarahrward1

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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William Ryan- The Constant Soldier

constant1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war. When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realizes that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her. But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalizingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever. And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

Already established as a crime writer of some repute with the Captain Korolev series set in the shadow of Stalinist Russia, William Ryan has now produced a fiction novel with huge gravitas, The Constant Soldier. Using as a starting point, the photographs taken by Karl Höcker, the adjutant to the final camp commandant at Auschwitz, Richard Baer, depicting the “social life” of the SS officers who were responsible for the mass murder at Auschwitz, Ryan has constructed a novel that is not only unerringly poignant and harrowing, but one that will stay in your thoughts for some time after reading…

This is one of those of those books that somehow proves difficult to review, quite simply because the ham-fisted meanderings of an amateur reviewer can in no way do full justice to the essential emotional strength and intelligence of this novel. What struck me the most about the book was Ryan’s ability to load the most simple of images with such a powerful emotional resonance from the steam rising from a bowl of freshly cooked potatoes on a family table while a miasma of emotional turbulence plays out around it, to the simple naturalistic images of the serenity of the landscape surrounding the SS encampment, and the ever present shadow of the Auschwitz death camp within its radius. The horrific images of human cruelty that we know are being played out at some remove from us as readers, are made all the more tangible amongst this natural serenity. The claustrophobic intensity of the SS camp and the dark deeds that occur within also acts as a harsh counterpoint, with its pollution of moral decency and the subjugation of those outside the existing regime, particularly in relation to the treatment of the women prisoners. There is the overriding chill of evil permeating the book, but at times dispelled by Ryan’s main protagonist Paul Brandt, and the humanity that he has retained in a world where humanity is largely absent.

Brandt is a mesmerising character, physically and mentally wounded by his experiences within the Nazi regime, and now finding himself working in the dark, sadistic atmosphere of the SS encampment. Deeply affected by his war experience, he attains the role of the moral ‘everyman’ in the novel, working at the behest of those he despises, and charged with an emotional impetus to liberate one of the female prisoners, whose story is so closely entwined with his own. Through his eyes and experience, we consistently witness the sadism ingrained in the SS officers around him, but also the moments of weakness and fear they experience as the war grinds towards its end, and the impending arrival of Soviet troops. The balance that Ryan ingrains in Brandt’s character of certitude and doubt is exceptionally well-handled, and poses a larger question as to why men such as he would seek to endanger his own survival, and use his staunch moral imperative to help others. In tandem with such a compelling central protagonist, Ryan has also confidently created a strong surrounding cast of characters from Brandt’s taskmasters at the camp, to his touching interaction with the headstrong Agneta, and the righting of a wrong he believes he has committed using his relationship with her as a conduit for this. There is also an interesting co-existing narrative focussing on the approach of the Soviet forces seen through the eyes of Polya Kolanka, a young woman who co-operates one of the approaching Soviet tanks. This alternative viewpoint of the events of the war co-exists beautifully with the central narrative, and her tale is as equally grim as Brandt’s but serves to a larger purpose to reinforce the theme of the futility of war, and the harsh reality of those caught up within it.

As Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong has defined the First World War narrative, so The Constant Soldier achieves this for World War II, with its understated but hugely powerful emotional and moral examination of one of the darkest periods of world history. It is harrowing and emotionally charged, but I would defy any reader not to be utterly moved by the story that plays out before them, such is the intensity and deceptively simple brilliance of Ryan’s writing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

 

 

August 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)August has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for the Raven, what with one thing and another, and some big decisions are now having to be made in the light of recent events. Consequently, my reading and blogging have been seriously impacted, and this has been quite a light month in terms of books read and reviews posted. I normally manage to read at least three books a week, but have been struggling to get through one! So big apologies for my severely depleted output, my sporadic catching up with social media and the acknowledgement of my fellow bloggers’ excellent posts. Am now in a state of ‘catch-up’, and hopefully there will be a much happier Raven back in the zone. Something good has got to happen soon, right?…

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

James Nally- Dance With The Dead

Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Robert Bailey- Between Black and White

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

Raven’s #20BooksofSummer: the first eight…

Chris Abani- Song For Night

Peter Watts- Echopraxia

Paraic O’Donnell- The Maker of Swans

Cynthia Ozick- The Puttermesser Papers

S. E. Craythorne- How You See Me

Robert Edeson- The Weaver Fish

Diana Rosie- Alberto’s Lost Birthday

David Peace- Tokyo Year Zero

Raven’s Book of the Month:

9781780874883With a lengthy hiatus in this excellent series I was delighted that Lennox has now made a more than welcome reappearance. As I said in my review, Russell perfectly evokes the feel of 1950’s Glasgow, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. If you haven’t discovered this series for yourselves yet, I would urge you to seek them out. Excellent.

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Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

CpcRLrnWYAAiAxqBorn into one of Glasgow’s most brutal crime syndicates, Kat Scobie has fought long and hard to forge her own path in a world where no choices are given. She thought she’d escaped. She thought she was different. But as her relatives gather to mourn the death of their most feared son, Kat is drawn inexorably back into their hellish world. And she’s not the only Scobie who resents the family dynamic. Because Ray Scobie isn’t dead. He’s near fatally wounded and hell-bent on revenge, and he knows his own father ordered his murder. Now the only person who can stop the carnage is Kat’s ex-lover John, a cop who’s so deep undercover he’s started to lose himself. With his cover crumbling around him, John’s about to discover that families can be murder…

And When I Die from Russel D McLean proved an interesting read from the outset, treading the path of established gangland writers, Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers et al, by focussing mainly on a female character either at odds with, or fully immersed in the male-centric power of a gangland family. Not being a fan of the aforementioned writers, what McLean provides here is a refreshing antidote in a usually cliché filled genre, in this tense gangland thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Glasgow.

Told from different narrative viewpoints, what McLean perfectly executes is a sensitive and believable depiction of a woman torn between family loyalty, but ingrained with a desperate need to cut these ties and strike out on her own. Kat Scobie had temporarily escaped her violent background, and the relationship she had formed with unbeknownst to her an undercover police officer, John Grogan who so easily infiltrated her family. Returning to Glasgow for the funeral of a family member, Kat is drawn back into the power play of her family, and John’s influence, at considerable physical and emotional stress to herself. She proves an incredibly empathetic and noble character, with a fierce sense of loyalty to one relative in particular, Ray, who finds himself physically threatened, and forced into a violent course of action, inveigling Kat in his personal vendetta. She finds herself increasingly conflicted, and McLean’s characterisation of the emotional turmoil she experiences is absolutely spot on throughout, effortlessly taking the reader with her, and enabling us to fully experience the gamut of emotions she experiences and seeks to come to terms with. McLean carefully interweaves incidents from her past, to bolster the ties between herself and Ray, and there is a taut and uncompromising journey for her as the book progresses.

Equally, McLean imbues his tough male protagonists with a conflicting range of emotional and violent impulses. Ray has a little understood physical condition that negates his ability to feel pain, and undercover officer Grogan is beginning to lose all sense of self due to his deep infiltration into the dark and violent world of the Scobie family, but increasingly conflicted by the powerhouse of emotions that Kat raises within him. McLean carefully manipulates the dialogue and rhythm of speech in his male characters, and in a similar style to fellow countryman Malcolm Mackay, exhibits a wonderful pared down, rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose. With Kat, there is more enhanced interior and exterior monologue, reflecting the differing emotional sensibilities between her and the male characters, and her deeper examination of the inherent danger she finds herself drawn into on her return to the family fold. In his characterisation of both Ray and Grogan, the reader is pivoted from feelings of repulsion to empathy and back again, as both demonstrate a kind of twisted nobility, counterbalanced by selfishness and a violent impulse to survive in this dark world.

McLean was a completely new to me author, and having a previous five thrillers to his name, is a writer I shall be definitely be seeking out again on the basis of And When I Die, a compelling, spare, thoughtful and at times brutally violent thriller. How could I have missed out on him? Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Robert Bailey- Between Black and White

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In 1966 in Pulaski, Tennessee, Bocephus Haynes watched in horror as his father was brutally murdered by ten local members of the Ku Klux Klan. As an African American lawyer practicing in the birthplace of the Klan years later, Bo has spent his life pursuing justice in his father’s name. But when Andy Walton, the man believed to have led the lynch mob forty-five years earlier, ends up murdered in the same spot as Bo’s father, Bo becomes the prime suspect.

Retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, Bo’s former teacher and friend, is a year removed from returning to the courtroom. Now McMurtrie and his headstrong partner, Rick Drake, must defend Bo on charges of capital murder while hunting for Andy Walton’s true killer. In a courtroom clash that will put their reputations and lives at stake, can McMurtrie and Drake release Bo from a lifetime of despair? Or will justice remain hidden somewhere between black and white?

Prepare to immerse yourself in the tinderbox tension of racially divided Tennessee in Robert Bailey’s legal thriller Between Black and White, and what a thriller it is…

This is an incredibly character driven book from the accused and extremely empathetic Bocephus Haynes, to the small band of men dedicated to clearing his name. Haynes, having witnessed the death of his father at the hands of the KKK as a young child, has devoted his life to both the law, and to bringing his father’s killers to justice. What Bailey so ardently portrays within Haynes’ character is the toll this has wreaked on both his sense of self, and his relationship with those closest to him. He is a man of warring morality, with his strong belief in the due process of law, and yet the primal urge to dispense justice outside of it, having made physical threats to the now aged Andy Walton, the man he believes was instrumental in his father’s killing. Haynes rides a gamut of emotions throughout the books, bringing the reader with him, as he is essentially a good man but is he a killer too? Bailey carefully manipulates his character from the outspoken and strident avenger to a man placed firmly in the hands of his legal team whose endeavours on his behalf will ultimately decide his fate.

His retired law professor Tom McMurtrie, young lawyer Rick Drake, and ex-divorce lawyer, now drunkard, Ray Pickalew, make up the merry band fighting to clear Haynes’ name, going into battle against ballsy local prosecutor Helen Lewis. All four of these characters are incredibly well-drawn, and Haynes’ team in particular are put through a real emotional and physical wringer as the plot progresses. The ties that bind in terms of personal loyalty to Haynes are stretched and tightened by Bailey’s assured depiction of McMurtrie and Pickalew in particular, when surprising revelations come to the surface as the courtroom action comes to the forefront. The characterisation, and the interplay between these protagonists, hold the plot and pace extremely well throughout, and Bailey lines up a similar crew of dastardly and not-so dastardly surrounding cast perfectly placed to thwart or aid the defence of Haynes.

The setting of Pulaski, Tennessee adds another layer to the plot, being the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan, and a town steeped in racial tension, with a chequered and violent history. Bailey takes some interesting diversions along the way with his depiction of the town and its history that bolster the atmosphere of the book, but never to the detriment of the pace of the story. The courtroom itself instantly brought to mind shades of To Kill A Mockingbird, with its segregated layout, and the references to the social and legal history of Pulaski itself. Bailey’s measured use of his chosen location lifts and enhances his already assured plot further, and I found these interludes of potted history very interesting indeed, as we bear witness to not only the current events but those of forty five years previously. He also depicts very well the strata of power and influence within this community, again linked so closely to the history of the town, and the seemingly unassailable challenge that Haynes’ legal team are confronted with to bring those with local stature to justice.

I will confess that legal thrillers as a rule are not really a favourite genre of mine, but I do have a keen interest in the chequered racial history of the United States, so was drawn to Between Black and White for that reason. With Bailey’s own background as a lawyer adding a real authenticity to the plot, and his exemplary characterisation, the control of tension, and pitch perfect use of historical fact throughout, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Thomas and Mercer for the ARC)

 

Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Black Night FallingHaving left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it’s less of a story Charlie’s chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it’s too late…

The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, was based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds took us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion. Black Night Falling picks up the story just a few months on from the harrowing events of the first book featuring stoic reporter Charlie Yates, and there is more darkness in store…

Once again, Reynolds completely immerses us in the world of 1940’s America, incorporating insights into the American psyche, and referencing returning servicemen from World War II. Reynolds’ attention to the detail of the period is again completely on song, and the intense heat of his chosen location of Texas shimmers and scorches alongside the emotional intensity of Yates’ troublesome investigation. Particularly effective is Reynolds’ depiction of this small community of Hot Springs, with its local commerce being driven by corrupt local figures, and the mostly illegal activities of gambling and prostitution, allowing him to insinuate real life gangster figures into the plot, that are immediately recognisable to the reader. Also by placing Yates in this inward looking and suspicious community, it allows us to acknowledge for ourselves, the frustration and danger that he encounters in his search for the truth behind his friend’s untimely end.

Charlie Yates, our dogged reporter is once again bestowed with a real core of morality, and again Reynolds makes full use of his  character pivoting between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability. As in The Dark Inside, Yates must use all his guile and powers of investigation to navigate his way between local law enforcement, the press, and the mayoral head honcho, assimilating, disregarding, or challenging their versions of events at no mean danger to himself. As much as Yates is fed false leads or incomplete information, we as readers are also constantly questioning the veracity of the information he receives, and playing the who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy, game as the plot progresses. With Yates being so firmly front and centre of the plot, Reynolds’ cast of supporting characters are something of a conduit or mirror for his actions, but there is a good array of ne’er-do-wells, tarts with hearts, unlikely good guys, and a thoroughly pernicious killer at the heart of the story to keep you hooked. Admittedly, I am still a little unconvinced by the depiction of Yates’ personal life, and the slightly clichéd drawing on this in the plot to manipulate Yates’ actions, however, when book focuses purposefully on Yates’ dogged determination to track a killer and expose corruption, Reynolds keeps a realistic and tight rein of the unfolding plot. With The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling being so closely interlinked, Reynolds does endeavour to reference the first book in the second as Yates’ investigation has the overarching echo and ramifications of previous events, but I would urge you to read both books in quick succession, to fully appreciate the symbiosis of the two books, as sometimes the links between the two lose a little of their power in the reliance on sporadic back story.

When I reviewed The Dark Inside I said I was delighted to hear that there was a sequel in the offing, and more than happy to say that Reynolds has come up trumps again. Read both- you won’t be disappointed.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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